The official kick off for the awards season race began Monday night with the Gotham Independent Film Awards at Cipriani Wall Street.
It was an evening of fun, surprises and upsets. The top prize, for best feature, went to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, a whimsical tale about young love. Only the film’s child stars Jared Gilman, 13, and Kara Hayward, 14, and Bob Balaban, the film’s narrator, were at the awards show to pick up their trophy. (Anderson is shooting a film.)
“It’s fun to be in something people love,” Balaban told me. “This is a festival where you really say it’s nice to be included with all of these special, difficult, unusual movies.”
Anderson’s film beat out Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a perplexing but visually beautiful movie that’s very much part of the Oscar chatter, especially for Joaquin Phoenix. The other contenders were Richard Linklater’s Bernie, Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet, and Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere.
The evening began with an upset, when the Audience Award went to Artifact, a documentary directed by Bartholomew Cubbins, instead of the favored Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin. Even Cubbins, which is really the pseudonym for actor Jared Leto, was shocked.
“I feel like Beasts of the Southern Wild should be up here with me,” he said. The musician-turned actor-turned director made a movie about his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and the album “War,” which prompted him to say to his audience, “This movie, which you obviously haven’t seen, is very personal to me … sorry that Beasts of the Southern Wild isn’t up here.”
Leto was unrecognizable; he became gaunt for Dallas Buyers Club, his first acting role in five years, where he portrays a transgender person. As for how he prepared for the role, he told a reporter, “I waxed my body. Feel if you want, nice and smooth.” Matthew McConaughey also stars in the film as someone diagnosed with AIDS/HIV, and he’s even skinnier than Leto.
The breakthrough actor prize went to Emayatzy Corinealdi, the star of Middle of Nowhere, who won over the evening’s host, Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk With Me), Quvenzhane Wallis (the child star of Beasts of the Southern Wild), Thure Lindhardt (Keep the Lights On) and Melanie Lynskey (Hello, I Must Be Going).
In previous years, winners have included Ellen Page (2007), Rinko Kikuchi (2006) and Amy Adams (2005), all who went on to receive Oscar nominations. After we told Corinealdi of the starry lineage of the award, the beautiful actress replied, “You know, this is right here. I’m going to stay right in this moment. I’m just going to enjoy it because it doesn’t happen often, so I’m thankful.”
(I didn’t mention to her that several years ago in 2010, Jennifer Lawrence lost out in the breakthrough actor category, although she was part of the ensemble that won for Winter’s Bone. Lawrence’s career was already taking off, with the role of the blue Mystique in X-Men: First Class so maybe she lost her indie cred, which could account for the loss.)
After losing to Leto in the Audience Favorite Prize, Beasts of the Southern Wild director won his first of two glass trophies. Even before he could finish the press line after winning breakthrough director, his name was called again as winner of the inaugural Bingham Ray award for a promising new filmmaker (named for the independent film executive who died this year), and Zeitlin sprinted back to the podium.
He returned to the press room holding both trophies like matching bookends, noting, “There’s so much love for this movie. It’s overwhelming.” He was also touched by how much Leto, who was born in Louisiana, loved his film. As for Zeitlin’s follow up, he’s unsure what it will be, but said he needed, “to go back to Louisiana and get on a boat and disappear into the swamps for a little while and then start writing it.”
Another surprise was best ensemble award which went to Your Sister’s Sister, starring Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt and Mark Dupluss. It beat out the heavily favored Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, and John Ortiz. Silver Linings, a critical and audience favorite since its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, seems destined for Oscar gold, especially for the director, movie and leads Lawrence and Cooper, despite its loss last night.
Dupluss was also in Safety Not Guaranteed, which also competed in the ensemble category. I asked him how he felt about running against himself in the same category. “It was a little weird, you know,” he said. “I just won, but I lost, too.”
Dupluss, who produced both films, said the female stars, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie Dewitt, worked for $100 a day. “They came up to do a low-budget movie, and it would not have been made without them. Nobody would have seen it without then, so the two girls are responsible” for the award and the film’s success.
David O. Russell, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard and Jeff Skoll of Participant Media were honored with special tributes.
In his opening monologue, Mike Birbiglia recited Russell’s infamous rant against Lily Tomlin in I Heart Huckabees. The intense and genius director chose to ignore it, or maybe that was the reason why he gave a shout out to all the leading actors he’d worked with, including Tomlin, when he picked up his trophy
Russell told me, “I wouldn’t be here without them. It’s a blessing. The greatest thing about writing a script or telling stories that affect an audience is then you get the good actors to come forward and really want to do anything they can for you,” he said. “They’ll run through fire for you if they believe in you, and that’s what I’m most grateful for.”
He also told me the award meant everything to him. “I was a bartender, a waiter, a teacher in this city for many years, and I would write screenplays and the first one was in the Federal Courthouse during jury duty,” he said, “So to come back here to the independent film community that inspired me, with Gus Van Sant, one of my heroes in front of me, means a lot to me.”
He told me he’s starting an untitled picture in February starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams – who was also at the Gotham Awards – Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner that is “based on the Abscam scandal in the State of New York in 1978. It’s a very intense, amazing story.”
The gorgeous and beguiling Marion Cotillard had just received her tribute award. She was stunning with her hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, a vision in black Christian Dior and around her neck a yoke of diamonds by Chopard; she was circled by reporters with recorders close enough to touch them.
Musing about what the award meant to her and her role in Rust and Bone, which may bring her another Oscar, she said, “I’m thinking about the people I worked with who gave me the opportunity to dig deep inside of the character, so it belongs to them.”
Another reporter asked how it felt being recognized for her career when she’s still so young. “Thanks for mentioning it,” she laughed. “I’m always very shy talking about myself being honored, because I don’t know how to do it but I try to do my best. I love my work so much, and when I dive into a character, I want to go to the deepest, and I’m happy when people like it.”
The award for best documentary was not surprising, in a strong lineup, and went to the brilliant How to Survive a Plague, directed by David France.
The highlight of the evening in the press room came with the arrival of Matt Damon, who was a tribute recipient. The good-natured and fun-loving actor batted questions from the press that ranged from silly to thoughtful to surreal, which he handled with grace, humor and charm.
Who’s his favorite actor? “A lot of them are dead,” he said, “but of the living, Gene Hackman. I love Gene Hackman, but I’m dying to see Lincoln with Daniel Day-Lewis. I love everything that he does.”
What’s it like coming full circle with Gus Van Sant in Promised Land, asked another reporter. (Van Sant also directed Good Will Hunting, which was the actor’s debut film, for which he won an Oscar with Ben Affleck in 1997.) “I hope it’s not full circle,” Damon said. “I hope we’re just a little way into the circle.”
Someone asked what he thought was the secret to Good Will Hunting‘s amazing success. “It was just like something that we wrote and we never compromised on it, and it was good by our standards and that was really it. We did the same thing with Promised Land, and Ben did the same thing with Argo. It’s just kind of revising and working on it until you get the thing that you want.”